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Education or freak show? ‘Bodies … The Exhibition’

Posted by Author on September 27, 2006

By WINDA BENEDETTI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 28, 2006-

Standing before a phalanx of reporters and photographers, he is more naked than most of us will ever be.

Not only is he positioned beneath a pool of light without cover of clothing, he is missing his skin and hair — a man stripped to nothing but muscle and bone and sinew, a man whose stomach, liver and intestines perch like books on a shelf for all to see.

Nobody knows exactly who he is — the man whose corpse stands among 20 other unidentified corpses soon to go on display in Seattle as part of a controversial exhibit of cadavers called “Bodies … The Exhibition.” What is known is that he was from China, and when he died his body went unclaimed — unclaimed, that is, until the dissectors at a Chinese university took him into their care and the show’s promoters took him on the road.

These mystery men and women — most of them relieved of their skin, some of them sliced into halves and thirds, all of them with their insides showing for the outside world to see — join the more than 250 human organs and partial-body specimens that make up “Bodies … The Exhibition,” a show that was unveiled for the media earlier this week and opens to the public Saturday.

“Bodies” is just one of several traveling cadaver exhibits that have in recent years pulled in many millions of visitors. And, depending on whom you ask, it’s either a precious educational opportunity not to be missed or nothing more than a modern-day freak show.

“The bottom line of our exhibition is education,” said Dr. Roy Glover, chief medical director for the exhibit, which is presented by Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions and hosted locally by the Seattle Theatre Group at 800 Pike, a new exhibition space across the street from the Washington State Convention Center.

Glover, a former professor of anatomy at the University of Michigan, said “Bodies” is designed “to introduce people to themselves.”

“We want people to see the complexities of their bodies,” he said. “We feel that people really need to see in order to understand.”

The exhibition allows visitors to walk among corpses preserved through a process (referred to as plastination) that fills their tissue spaces with a liquid silicone rubber. The bodies are then dissected and posed in a manner best suited to displaying the intricate workings of the skeletal, muscular, reproductive and other systems.

Various body parts help illustrate for the public the ravages of disease and poor lifestyle choices — the blackened lungs of a smoker placed near the pale lungs of a non-smoker, a healthy liver next to a liver sick with cirrhosis.

“Our bodies are our most important possession,” said Glover, adding that, unfortunately, people tend to take better care of their cars.

But critics say this show and others like it don’t so much educate as they do desecrate the human body for profit.

“Premier is a for-profit company. What they’re trying to do is make money for a corporation,” said Philip Lipson, a Seattle resident who Tuesday stood outside the soon-to-be-opened exhibit distributing protest fliers.

Meanwhile, members of human-rights watchdog groups and some members of Seattle’s Chinese community have expressed concern that, not only do the bodies come from a country with a long history of human-rights abuses, but the people whose bodies were used did not give permission for their bodies to be put on display.

“I’m troubled by the fact the bodies are from China,” said Ron Chew, executive director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum. “There are a lot of issues there.”

“From a cultural perspective, especially since a number of the cadavers are from China, it feels like a gross violation,” said Bettie Luke, who works with various Seattle Chinese American groups. “The willful use of putting a body on indefinite display like that condemns the soul to wander the netherworld with no chance to rest.” ( more from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s report )

Organ sales ‘thriving’ in China, BBC News, 27 September 2006

15 Responses to “Education or freak show? ‘Bodies … The Exhibition’”

  1. I don’t even understand how I finished up right here, but I believed this post was great. I don’t know who you might be but definitely you’re going to a well-known blogger when you aren’t already ;) Cheers!

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  5. From the mouth of madness and sfter 18 months of pursuet and phsycological warfare broadcasts I Benjamin Biegel have survived the dark ages and understand a Chinees infuence to provide perfect recod data of human remains to be the most billiant and creative learning experiance ever conceved in the United States. I will see the exhibit again on the 30th of this August and provided your friend keep a promise once more as a VIP Deam where sound can instigate a 3d fly through experience detailing the preparation of a frozen Chiness Nano Nebular Mechanic and his lifes work while the observer sleeps.

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    Post Trauma – After life in the E.R.

  6. I think this is freak show rather than education purpose.. This purely made for profit.

  7. Joanna S said

    When I saw the exhibit I found it very educational.. but I couldn’t help thinking, “Where did all these bodies come from?” I just assumed they were John and Jane Doe’s that were left to science. It was not until two years later that I learned of the controversies surrounding the exhibit.. now I am very skeptical. The thought of mystery bodies is quite disturbing.

  8. Mike D said

    I saw the expo in Vegas today. Amazing? Yes! I think anyone with a curious mind and a strong stomach should go. I understand the concern for the bodies on display being from China, but God bless these people who are educating all of us. It is to bad they did not give permission in any case. Well have fun! Cheers!!

    • stargoop said

      If you read a story in the paper that a group was collecting dead bodies of the homeless in the United States to display for your amusement would you feel differently?

  9. Laurie O'Malley said

    I have not seen the exhibit. I have seen numerous pics here on the internet and I can say that it makes me extremely uncomfortable that the bodies came from China, where people have so few rights. Even though there may be some good things that come out of this exhibit, these things do not justify using someone’s body without his/her consent. I am all for educational opportunities, but not at the cost of someone’s life. We don’t know how these people died, who they were, or what they would have wanted. How we can say it is okay to do what we want to them in the name of money or education is wrong. What about the fetuses? Many people miscarry and are so saddened by it. How were these fetuses obtained? China is known for it’s forced abortions. Did the mothers of these unborn people give consent for their deceased children to be on display? I doubt it.
    Watch surgeries on cable if you need to see and learn-all those patients had to give consent for the cameras to be rolling.

  10. frank burns said

    Objections are baseless, except in groundless fears of seeing reality. To exist as humans we have the right to know ourselves, and that includes our phyical bodies, outside and in. Modern society has placed death in a closet of tabu, so this exhbition comes like a breath of fresh air. The Christian religion denies the reality of death and minimizes the importance of the material world — they object to this like they objected to Galileo saying the earth was not at the center of the universe. Well, let them fume, and come and see the show!

    • stargoop said

      I do not belong to any official religion but that doesn’t mean that I do not have the conscience to be embarrassed for the human race that has no more regard for its fellows than this. By the way have you signed up to have your body exhibited in this carnival show after death?

  11. The use of bodies of unknown origin to bring in the crowds inad make money is wrong, in my opinion, and it is not necessary to see the exhibits to form an opinion. In the case of the Seattle exhibit, the bodies are from China, and are most likely the bodies of the poor, the disenfranchised, or even of prisoners, perhaps political prisoners. This is a human rights issue.

    Even if people have given their permission to display their bodies, the cost to human dignity is not worth the price. These were living individuals with a soul-they lived and loved and cried, and now should be left in peace. Any educational benefits could have been gotten by other means. Real bodies are being used to attract attention.

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  12. It’s hard to make a judgment about the show without having seen it in person. The fact that the company in charge of these displays is a for-profit organization doesn’t automatically mean that the exhibits are “bad.” After all, many universities are for-profit these days as well. At any rate, thanks for bringing this series to my attention.

    • stargoop said

      You cannot judge without filling their pockets with money first? Can you judge the morality rape or murder without seeing it in person? Is the comparison too harsh for you, well its just using another human being’s body or life for your pleasure without their consent.

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